Long-Gun Registry: RCMP Says Loss Will Make Criminal Probes More Difficult

Posted: 04/12/2012 4:21 pm Updated: 04/13/2012 1:54 pm

OTTAWA - As it prepares to destroy millions of long-gun records, the RCMP says the Conservative government's decision to scrap the registry will make it tougher to trace firearms used to commit crimes.

The process that will lead to deletion of rifle and shotgun records in the registry is under way — with the exception of Quebec files at the centre of a court action, said Cpl. Laurence Trottier, an RCMP spokeswoman.

"It is a complex IT project involving the destruction of a large amount of data that is part of an integrated database, and will take some time to complete."

The national police force also says repeal of the long-run registry means tracing rifles and shotguns linked to criminal investigations "will be more challenging and will require more in-depth police investigation."

Recently passed legislation ended registration of most long guns and directed the RCMP to permanently destroy more than seven million files on firearm ownership. This includes deletion of computer files as well as any relevant paper records.

Quebec wants to use some of the data to create its own registry, but the federal government refuses to share the records, prompting the province to go to court.

Trottier said a Quebec court order forbidding destruction of registry data from the province — at least for now — "has had an impact, but the process continues in such a way that the records associated to non-Quebec residents will be destroyed in accordance with (the legislation), and the Quebec records will be treated as required by the courts."

She was unable to say when actual destruction of the records might begin. Federal lawyers involved in the court case say no data will disappear before August.

The cost of destroying the records "will be absorbed by existing budgets," the RCMP says.

The Tories argue the registration of long guns is wasteful and unnecessary. However, they support the continued licensing of gun owners and registration of restricted weapons — mainly handguns — and prohibited firearms — mainly smaller handguns and fully automatic weapons.

Trottier declined to elaborate on how the long-gun registry's demise will make it more difficult for the RCMP to track rifles and shotguns associated with crimes.

However, a newly released RCMP briefing note says eliminating the registry may delay criminal investigations, increase reliance on other countries for information, and hamper Canada's ability to comply with international treaties.

The Canadian Firearms Program, administered by the RCMP, works with police on investigations and plays a role in tracing the illegal movement and criminal use of firearms both in Canada and abroad, according to the note obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The program also supports international firearms investigations and provides tracing services for illicit guns through the Canadian National Firearms Tracing Centre, added the note, prepared for incoming Commissioner Bob Paulson.

"The loss of information on non-restricted firearms may result in a disproportionate reliance on foreign countries, such as the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to trace firearms to their point of entry into Canada."

The firearms program also manages thousands of court-ordered gun revocations and prohibitions, and the end of the registry could compromise the ability of police to guarantee that all rifles and shotguns have been seized from an individual, the note says.

It also underscores the fact the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police wrote Public Safety Minister Vic Toews last June, saying that repeal of the registry would reduce the ability of police to effectively trace long guns.

"Canada's capacity to combat the illicit trafficking of these firearms and its ability to meet related international agreements may be significantly diminished," says the briefing note to Paulson.

Canada is signatory to two international conventions against the illicit manufacture and trafficking of firearms. It has also signed a politically binding international accord to enable states to identify and trace illicit small arms and light weapons.

These international agreements, among other things, demand that Canada co-operate on firearms tracing and maintain adequate records, according to an internal Public Safety Department memo.

Public Safety Department spokeswoman Jessica Slack refused to answer questions about how the end of the gun registry might affect the firearms program's ability to trace guns, saying only that Canada is committed to meeting its international treaty obligations.

Foreign Affairs Department spokeswoman Aliya Mawani referred questions to Public Safety.

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  • What does this new bill on the gun registry do?

    We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>

  • What exactly is the registry?

    It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.

  • Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?

    No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.

  • What are long guns?

    There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.

  • How many guns are we talking about?

    As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.

  • Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?

    The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.

  • Who wants to keep it?

    Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.

  • When will the registry cease to exist?

    The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.

  • Why does the government want to destroy the records?

    The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.

  • How much does the registry cost?

    The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.

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